Children & Teens Exposed to Domestic Violence

Effects on Children and Teens


Sometimes we think children and teens are not aware of violence in the home, but they usually hear and see more than we realize.  Domestic violence impacts everyone and children and teens are no exception.

The good news is that you can counteract the destructive effects of exposure to abuse with your nurturing, support, unconditional love, and a supportive network of friends and family.  Children and teens can be resilient if they are listened to, supported, and allowed to feel safe3.  Your relationship as a parent with your children is an important factor in determining their resiliency.


Witnessing Domestic Violence


In Idaho, over 16,000 children each year are aware of and suffer the consequences of witnessing domestic violence.

The effects of exposure to domestic violence will vary depending on the age of the child or teen, the length, frequency, and severity of the abuse, as well as the child’s or teen’s relationship with the non-abusive parent, and whether thy are themselves targets of abuse and/or have access to a support network.

It is important to know that children and teens will show different symptoms depending on all of these factors.  The younger the child and the longer the exposure to abuse, the more critical it is to ensure the child’s immediate emotional and physical safety, interrupt the trauma, and support your child’s healing.


Effects of Exposure to Domestic Violence



· Higher risk of miscarriage

· Less access to pre-natal care

· Health risks to mother and fetus



· Developmental delays

· Excessive separation anxiety

· Sleep disturbances

· Disruptions in feeding schedule

· Failure to thrive

· Infants may be caught in the “crossfire” and injured


School-Aged Children:

· Depression, anxiety, confusion, loss of self-esteem, anger, aggression, fear, guilt, withdrawal, and self-destructiveness

· Disciplinary problems in school or the need to be perfect

· Irrational fear of failure, and may perceive punishment as love

· Difficulty developing friendships due to poor modeling of conflict management and secrecy about what’s going on in their household

· Headaches, stomachaches, insomnia/sleep disturbances, bed-wetting, excessive clinging, and separation anxiety



· Poor academic performance or they may feel obliged to excel

· They may feel responsible for siblings and/or the abused parent

· Low self-esteem

· Poor social skills and difficulty controlling emotions

· Little understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like

· May form views of relationships that involve coercive controlling behaviors, fear, anger, and mistrust

· Greater risk to victimize others or engage in teen dating violence

· Early and risky sexual activity, pregnancy, or early marriage

· Higher risk for depression, separation anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder

· Running away from home

· Drug and alcohol use/abuse

· Suicidal behavior

· Delinquency or criminal activity


The Co-Occurrence of Domestic Violence with Child Abuse and Neglect


Children and teens exposed to domestic violence are at higher risk of neglect, emotional and physical abuse, and/or sexual abuse.

Children and teens exposed to domestic violence are also often isolated, called names, humiliated, intimidated, manipulated into abusing the non-abusive parent, threatened with abandonment or suicide by the abuser, and/or denied access to healthcare, proper nutrition, clothing, and shelter.  The abusive parent may resort to these destructive behaviors in an effort to maintain power and control over their partner and children.


What Can You Do?


If you are a parent in an abusive relationship acknowledge that your children and teens are at risk and plan for their safety and your won.  It is critical to help them feel safe.  Remember that what is best for your child and teen is ensuring your safety as well as theirs.

It is important that children and teens have trusting and safe relationships with adults and opportunities to feel good about themselves and build self-esteem.  Listen to them.

For teens, it is important to recognize the complexities of their lives.  Provide teens with the relevant information and skills necessary to avoid harm in real life situations and that emphasizes their choices, responsibilities, and consequences.  Build trust and provide opportunities for building the skills necessary to promote healthy relationships.


What Can You Say?


· You love them

· It is okay to talk about their feelings

· It is not their fault

· There are safe places to go

· Anger and frustration are normal, violence is not

· You can choose to be in a healthy relationship as a teen or adult


Idaho Resources


Idaho Child Protection Reporting

Boise 1-800-600-6474

Statewide 1-800-926-2588

Idaho Care Line 2-1-1

Idaho Statewide Violence

Domestic Violence Hotline


Idaho Teen Dating Violence Awareness

& Prevention Project

A Project of the Idaho Coalition Against

Sexual & Domestic Violence

1-888-293-6188 or go to (link is external)


For more information contact the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & domestic Violence at 208-384-0419 or go to (link is external).